12 Short Months

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April 1, 2017

I woke to the pungent odor of cigarette smoke wafting through the slightly open window behind my head, early, the stench combined with the brisk morning air through the window bringing me awake quickly.  The room was foreign to me, a crowded reminder that I was no longer living in the home that I had occupied with my wife and family for nearly 22 years.  Two days before, friends had helped me cram as many of my belongings as possible into that room, the rest of my belongings shoe horned into a small rental locker a few miles away.  Late in the afternoon of March 31, I had bid good bye to the house that had been my home.. my family’s home.  As the cigarette smoke cleared my head, I looked around the room from where I lay on two beds combined into one, boxes and furniture stacked to the ceiling.  In order to go to bed the night before, I had to clear a narrow path from the bedroom door to my bed(s).  My temporary roommate was outside on the balcony, just outside the window, chain smoking and playing games on her smart phone.  She had vowed to quit smoking inside the condo that I was buying from her.  In another month, she would move into the house she had bought.  Over the course of the month we shared the space, we would reacquaint after nearly a 25 year absence from each other — when we had dated seriously.  I became used to her chain smoking and habits — she sat outside smoking and drinking wine until nearly 9 each evening, went to bed, woke up at 5 AM to smoke before going to work.

Often, I relaxed outside on the deck with her, glad to have a friend who cared.  We are similar personalities, a real benefit to us when we dated, probably one of the reasons we had become such good friends during the time we dated.  We were also different people in certain respects, likely the reason why our dating relationship didn’t work out, something very obvious when we reconnected after a quarter century.  Good friends usually stay that way, even after a long absence, and I was happy to realize that at one time in my life I had been able to give a woman the friendship she needed (and vice versa).  On April 1, 2017 it was very important to have a friend who supported me like Marge supported me in the weeks that followed.

There was a lot to get used to, much to process, much more than I could imagine at the time.  I felt relief to be away from the stress that had been such a constant part of my life for years.  My journey had taken the turn in the direction it had been heading for years, I knew, what felt like the direction it needed to take, the uncertainty in my mind wondering what was ahead.  This was uncharted territory, but I could see light through the darkness and I was stumbling towards it.

That part of my story is not about a love rekindled.  I like to think of it as it was — a kind blessing and one of the blessings or mercies afforded to me during the time after the separation.  My life took what felt like a sudden turn, even though it really wasn’t a sudden change, but in one moment, in one day, my life changed drastically.

I have chronicled some of the past year here.  As I contemplate what has happened in one year, I am amazed.  A lot has happened, a lot has changed. as have I.  The smoke infested condo that I bought from my old friend is now my home.  It took a lot of effort, but no longer are the walls yellowed or the strong odor of stale cigarettes evident.  That place is slowly becoming my own.

Another good friend of mine really likes to decorate.  A fun date for her is to decorate my place with the curtains and furniture and plates and pictures and candles and glasses and… yeah.  Her mark is all over my home now.  We are getting to know each other, slowly and not so slowly discovering the different things we need to know about each other if our relationship is going to continue.  There are a few questions, but we are happy with each other, enjoying each other.  She brings me contentment and peace, a reason to smile each Saturday evening, a companion via text and phone the other six days of the week.

I have not told my family about that friend, but they must know.  If they read this blog, they know now.  That revelation, when to share it, is one of the challenges that I have to face now.  Dad’s dating has to be a hard pill to swallow.

In a year, I have learned to value even more the friendships in my life, both old and new.  Survival through the challenges I have encountered since April 2017 has depended a lot on recognizing how God works through other people, his blessings and support brought through them.  It’s a bit humbling.  I recognize those blessings a lot easier now, that recognition bringing me back to the God that provides them.  Skeptics will say that it is impossible to see God.  I say they are very wrong, especially since I can see him so clearly now through what he has brought to me this past year.

My children, my ex wife, probably don’t agree with me, but the change that began seemingly so suddenly on April 1, 2017 was a change that needed to happen.  I see now that the pain of divorce for me happened prior to that day.  The healing, for me, began as soon as the opportunity to put the pain behind me presented itself.

My relationship with my son is evolving.  He lives with his mom, goes to college at the community college across the street from their apartment.  We are learning how to communicate with each other, and I am seeing where I have influenced him over the years.  It’s encouraging that he is beginning to reach out to me, text and call, largely using those things we have in common as a means to reach out — sports, fixing his car, food, even church.  When we lived in the same house, the conflict was continuous, fueled by a mother who thought that taking his side in each conflict was the correct way to deal with things, a frustration to me and one of the main contributors to the breakdown in our marriage.  Now that the conflict is distant, the relationship with my son has a chance to be positive.. and I think we are both happy with what is happening.  Yes, the divorce is part of the path my journey needed to take and the change in the relationship I have with my son is evidence of that.

My daughter is graduating from college next month.  She came to see me last weekend, spent Sunday morning and afternoon with me — church, replacing windshield wipers on her car, going over her taxes.  I cooked her lunch.  We talked some about what it is going to be like when she moves to Turkey at the end of the summer.  I sense that she is tense, needs to talk more about what happened in our family.  Some day, I hope that we can.  I am proud of her.  She is someone who dreams and does something about it, evidenced in so many things she has done, especially her choice of job.  Things that scare people she faces with courage, sees the reward in the challenge, knows that she is listening to a God who will use her immensely.  Want to talk about God’s blessings some more?  Just ask me to talk about my daughter.

I survived the tax season, my fears real when looking at the potential of debt.  For the first time, I hired an accountant to do my taxes, one of the best moves ever if just for the complications of a new divorce.  He winced when he saw the federal health insurance subsidy amount from last year.  If I had to repay that this year, like I did last year, I would be in serious debt to our government.  Instead, I am getting refunds.  For the first time in a long, long time I am able to start saving money, my car decided to quit breaking down (still crossing my fingers) and I have control over debt (or the lack of debt).  That too is a blessing.

My downstairs neighbor has not been home for over a month.  Shortly after the condo meeting we both attended, she must have decided to live with her husband.  He has a home elsewhere.  Blessings are pouring down right now and the absence of her presence is a big one.

 

So much more to write.  One year, so many changes…. I look over my shoulder and see where I have been.  There is a lot of darkness over that shoulder, a lot of light as I look forward.

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Enter CW

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What can I complain about next?  The other day, right here in this blog, I wailed without gnash the state of the weather here in Chicagoland.  I joined the host of winter whiners lamenting the frigid April temperatures.  I felt like a child in the backseat, tormenting my father with cries of IS THE WARM WEATHER THERE YET?  My answer to my kids, by the way, was always “five minutes”.  There is a reason why my 22 year old daughter still rolls her eyes at me when she sees me.

All I had to do was complain.  I have that power.  After writing that winter whine the other morning, I arrived home from work to temperatures around 48 degrees.  Dang.. that’s shirtsleeves weather.

I had to ride.  I donned my Under Armor mock tee, capri padded bibs, fleece lined long sleeve jersey, and fleece lined tights.  It was after 5 o’clock, the temperatures about to dip.  Besides, it’s difficult enough for my neighbors to be subjected to me in tights, much less bike shorts.  Likely one of the reasons why I prefer mountain biking over riding the road is the difference in garb — loose fitting shorts and shirt compared to clothing that makes me look like a stuffed sausage.

I also wore fingerless gloves, something I regretted for the first five minutes of my ride.  It was colder than anticipated, the temperatures already beginning to drop.  My fingers had that frozen feeling, the air rushing over them from my (not so) fierce pace adding to the cold.  Five minutes in, I forgot about the cold, my body providing the necessary warming.  I reveled in a quiet, briskly paced twelve mile ride — just enough to give me an energy charge better than any energy drink can provide.

Four out of the last five days on the bike.  Last night was warm enough for shorts and tee shirt, at least in the woods.  I treated myself to an hour of single track.

I am taking suggestions for complaints.  This man is the complaint whisperer.

Christmas Tree For Easter

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It’s been so freaking cold here in the Chicago area that I was tempted to put my Christmas tree up for Easter.  Spring here is always a finicky beast, but this year it’s more grumpy than ever.  Everyone is complaining, grousing at the snow storms even in it’s beauty, even as the snow blankets everything in white then disappears as the day progresses.  Ever the positive one, I try to remind my disgruntled friends and family that these are perhaps our last chances to take in the serenity and purity that snow brings, revel in the sight especially since it doesn’t even require shoveling.  I am good that way, have only been slapped a few times.

I am also full of BS.  I want the cold weather gone as much as anyone else.  As a cyclist, I am very tired of the tights and layers required for each ride.  My neighbors have remarked several times that they too are tired of the sight of me in tights.  Saturday morning, it was 27 degrees when I threw my leg over the top tube, winter riding gloves on and wool socks protecting my tootsies (yes, I said ‘tootsies’.. I am secure).  Ironically, the freezing temperatures do have an upside for mountain biking — frozen trails.  However, one must get out early in the morning, when it is still cold, because the trails begin to thaw in the sunlight.  Thawing trails become greasy, not the ideal condition.  Greasy trails are not as much fun as it sounds.. dangerous is not fun.

My spare time has found me preparing for those sunny days despite the frigid temperatures.  The days of open windows will be here soon enough.  Over the weekend, I picked out a nice two person glider and matching chair for the deck at my condo.  My condo faces a wooded berm, with lots of cardinals and robins and various birds, as well as squirrels and bunnies.  Mornings and evenings outside are in my future, my deck a place of refuge.  I can’t wait.  The grill is refueled, clean and ready as well.

Bring on the bike shorts.  I am ready!

March Madness

It’s March, a time of year in Chicagoland where we really don’t know what to expect, a season of the unpredictable.  Weather can be cold, it can be warm, windy, rainy, snowy, icy.  When it comes to cycling, one needs to be savvy and flexible, ready to ride when the weather allows, willing to ride when conditions are less than favorable.

One of the blessings of being a cyclist who enjoys both mountain bike (dirt) riding and road riding is that I can pick and choose the type of riding according to what the day offers.  Wind and cold may mean that I ride dirt trails in the woods.  Moist weather may mean that the road is the best place to experience the joy of riding.  Either way, I am going to be on  the bike.

I like these days, when my time is my own, when I have the choice.

Lately, the only reason why I don’t ride is fatigue.  I rest when my body needs a rest.  I have been riding when I want to ride, which is practically every day.  Last night, I rode in shorts and a tee shirt, on dirt trails, led two friends on a ride through the familiarity of my favorite system, two hours of hard riding that showed me that I am already coming into form.  I slept the sleep of satisfied fatigue last night, the tired joy of a man who has pushed his body in the right way.

Funny, my friend that I led along the trails last night posted on FB about the comical patience that I displayed as I led her and her boyfriend last night.  It was fun.  I had to ride harder than usual, pay attention to the lines I am familiar with, because I was leading two above average riders.  I liked that I was able to push myself.  I was proud.

Life is always good when I am riding, even in March.

One note — my son will win a huge NCAA basketball pool that I paid for him to enter — if Villanova wins.  Pretty cool.

Practice That Stare

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It’s starting to become comical.  Correction – it has been comical for a while, but even I am starting to laugh a little more at the situation.

The situation?

If it wasn’t obvious already, my downstairs neighbor is a crazy woman obsessed with driving away her upstairs neighbors.  So obsessed is this woman, so driven to control her world and expand it beyond her little condo, that she refuses to give up.  It’s lunacy.

Call me childish.  It won’t offend me.  I am childish and proud of it.  Last Wednesday night was the monthly condo association meeting.  Days before, a sign was posted at the entrance to the development to announce the 7 PM meeting.  I have gone to one meeting since I moved in last April.  Each meeting has a time where residents can voice their concerns, complaints and suggestions to the condo board, followed by the business of the meeting.  I know that my unfriendly downstairs lunatic attended a meeting to complain about me shortly after I moved in.  I complained about her at the meeting that followed her early morning outburst to my daughter and I last October.

I bought a leather recliner last Wednesday evening after work.  As I was toting the recliner up the stairs to my place, 15 minutes before the condo meeting was to begin, my favorite neighbor emerged from her cave.  She rushed out the door to the courtyard, a sheet of paper in her hand.

Hmmm… I wonder where Terese the Terrible was headed?

Attending a condo board meeting was not on my agenda for the evening.  However, no way was I going to miss witnessing her tirade in front of the meeting.  Even better, my presence might just upset her enough to shut her up.  I moved my new recliner in, brushed my teeth, then headed out the door for the meeting.

Yes, it was a bit of a childish thing to do.  It might also have been a good thing to do.  My neighbor was leaning over the chairman of the board, fervently preaching to her as I walked in and took a seat in the third row of seats.  A nice couple seated next to me introduced themselves and chatted with me while we waited for the meeting to begin.  Finished with her sermon to the board chairman, Terese the Terrible took a seat two rows directly in front of me.  I knew that she saw me, especially when she turned around and attempted to give me an evil stare.

I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.  It was a really pitiful attempt, but there was a bit of demon in her eyes.  What was that about the couple asked me.  All I said was that we shall see.

We didn’t see.  Moments later, Terese whipped out her cell phone and began texting frantically.  I felt special.  Very special.  She was upset that I was there.  Her plans for audience to her complaints were foiled.  The meeting started, the floor was opened to resident comments.  My neighbor sat in the front row, fists clenched and silent.  The meeting moved on to the business of the meeting.  A few minutes later Terese’s husband, Thad the Tiny Balled, walked in and sat next to his wife, a stern stare in my direction as he sat down.

The meeting adjourned, the board still seated at the front of the room.  The lovely couple surrounded the chairman, Terese frantically shoving the paper in the chairman’s hand, obviously a written complaint.

I have heard nothing.  Maybe that document was an announcement that she is moving?

That is my prayer.  I can only hope.

 

Specific

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Tuesday night I experienced a first, something that took me longer to experience than it probably should have.  After all, I travel often enough.  Maybe I have been more lucky than most when it comes to travel.  Who knows, all I know is that what happened is my first time.

My flight home was cancelled due to weather.  Chicago was having a snow storm, a minor one, but other parts of America were experiencing storms, so I imagine that my plane couldn’t make it to Atlanta.  The thing is, I needed to spend more time with my customer, was pretty sure that I wouldn’t make it back to the airport for my flight.  The flight was delayed as I checked my text messages, then cancelled.  I was stuck in the customer’s factory, an error in their wiring causing a delay in the configuration service that I was providing, so I needed more time to complete my tasks.  Rather than get annoyed at the cancellation, I was happy that my customer wouldn’t have to pay the charges to change my flight.

Funny, when I pray, I don’t always expect a real answer.  I had prayed.  I wanted this visit to this specific customer to be successful.  God answered my prayer in a very specific way.

I stayed an extra night.  I came back the next morning, made a few tweaks to each of the transmitters that I had configured the past few days, improved performance to within a quarter inch accuracy on every transmitter installed and configured.  Adding lemonade.another day gave me more time with a customer who has the potential for a ton more business, including training engineers who have influence on plants around the USA.

Dang, I feel good about myself!  I feel good about what happened.

Oh and I got to drive the Cadillac that I had been upgraded to for another day.

Lemonade, children, lemonade.

On The Road Again

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Last week I took advantage of the warmer weather, pulled my bicycle off of the trainer in my spare bedroom, took it down to my garage.  The weather was comfortable, with more comfortable weather forecast for the weekend.  While it was dark by the time I arrived home from work, too dark to ride the road (it’s just too dicey around here), I did want the bike ready for the weekend.  Fresh batteries went into the wireless computer and the fork mounted transmitter.  The headlight and rear flasher went back on the bike.  Tires were checked, chain cleaned and readied.  I prepped a ziplock baggie with spare tube, patch kit, CO2 cartridges and inflator, dollar bills.  Gloves, road helmet and head sweat liner, socks, shoes were all set out in their place on the shelf above my bike.  A little apprehensive yet excited about my first real road ride in quite a while, I was ready to roll.

Saturday morning emerged with a burst of sunlight through my bedroom windows.  I smiled as the brightness peeked through the blinds, rested and ready.  My plan was to spend the first part of the morning in my usual way, with a light breakfast and coffee, a few moments of meditation, then the few chores that needed to be done around the house before heading out on the bike by mid morning.  Careful not to plop down on the couch lest I get too comfortable, I changed into my cycling clothes — two layers with shorts and a insulated long sleeve mock neck tee as the first layer, thick tights and a long sleeve jersey as the second layer.  Wool socks are always my choice for my feet, no matter the weather, so I pulled on my Woolie Boolies then headed out the door.  Temperatures were in the low to mid thirties, so I knew that the ride would be a tad brisk, but still comfortable.

There is something wonderfully satisfying about hearing the first click of cleat to pedal, the light resistance straining against my legs for the first pedal strokes followed by a pleasant hum as the wheels spin lightly.  There was very little getting used to the feel of the bike underneath me as I have already been out plenty on my mountain bike this year, but the feather light titanium framed beauty that I ride feels like nothing after riding the 10-12 pound heavier mountain bike.  There is a pleasure to riding both bikes that I refuse to compare to anything else in life.  I will just say that there is a reason that I have been riding for some 25+ years.. and will continue until I am no longer physically able to ride.

My goal for Saturday was simply to spin out the cobwebs, ride for a few hours.  That goal was accomplished nicely, with 32 miles on my odometer at the end of the ride, a little better that 16 mph average.  The first ride of the year should never feel like punishment to my body, something that was accomplished.  There was enough left in me to finish the day, yet enough taken out to let me know that my body would be thanking me the next day.  Along the way, I met a woman who was getting ready to ride, a pleasant conversation with an expression of hopes to see each other again out on the road.  There was light to almost non-existent traffic, good weather, and plenty of blessing packed into the short time I took getting reacquainted with my titanium two wheeled friend.

Sunday afternoon found me out on the dirt trails again.  Our weather dry the last four days, the trails I ride ready.  I got 90 minutes in on the mountain bike before I had to quit.  I had promised a friend at church that I would fill in for him as an usher for our evening service.  The time on the trail was fabulous, especially when I came across my friend, Roy, out on the trail and was able to ride with him for a while.

On the road again, looking forward to more time out.  I need to ride.  May is around the corner and I have a difficult event to train for!

I Am a MAMIL

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I am a MAMIL and proud of it.  I always have been, always will be.  My friend, John, and I went to see this little documentary last night and were delighted at how relevant it was to us.  John and I are each over 50, have been MAMIL for quite a while.  Frankly, it’s one of the reasons why we are friends, as well as why we have so many MAMIL friends.

If you ride a bike, are male, and are over 40 years old, go see MAMIL.  You will howl at much of what is in the movie.  Don’t take your wife, a family member, or significant other as the documentary covers such topics controversial to riding bikes, such as the Plus 1 rule, injuries, time constraints, obsessions with cycling gear and trinkets, racing.. and how riding can strain relationships closest to the rider.  It also talks about physical and mental health benefits to the over 40 male.  The movie starts out light hearted, poking fun at how lycra is not kind to anyone who wears it, especially middle aged men.

We don’t care, do we?

After all, we ride a MFing bike (the video is in MAMIL).

MAMIL is for a very specific viewing audience.  I doubt that it will be all that popular, but it is indeed relevant.  While most of the guys interviewed in the movie were a bit extreme, I know a lot of guys who make them look mild in their obsession.  One thing in the movie that I found sad was the seemingly intentional segue from a segment on gay cyclists in NYC to Christian cyclists in Minneapolis.  Thankfully, the Christian cyclists were not portrayed in a negative way.

I found myself thinking back to when I started cycling as an adult.  I was 30, newlywed, recovering from a second surgery on my right knee.  Stationary bike riding was part of the prescribed therapy, something that I really enjoyed.  Because of marital bliss weight gain as well as a lack of cardio exercise due to a knee that swelled every time I ran, I leapt at the chance to train for a century ride with several people at work.  A friend loaned me his extra hybrid bike to train for the ride.  Quickly, I was putting in 400 miles or more a week on the bike, the fat literally melting off of my body.  In a very short period of time (July through November), I went from nearly 240 pounds to under 200 pounds.  My knee quit swelling when I ran, my performance in other sports soared, and I felt incredible.  A year later, I had my first road bike and was riding events several times a month, including my first of seven RAGBRAI tours.

Also within a year of that first bike ride, I began riding my bicycle to work.  When my daughter was born, her mother decided that she needed to be a stay at home mom.  Our funds were limited to the meager salary that I made, which had to pay a mortgage and family expenses.  Bike commuting became a way to not only get extra time on the bike each day, but it also became a way to save on transportation costs.  My coworkers began to identify me by my biking obsession, laughed as the sight of me in lycra became a daily thing.  People started coming to me with biking questions, suggestions on what bike to buy, requests to help them fix bikes, etc…. I can remember being proud of stretching $10 worth of gasoline over a 4 week period of time.  That was in my old Ford Aerostar van, not exactly a gas stingy machine!

Juggling riding time with family time was a bit of a challenge, but even my ex wife would admit that I did a pretty good job of it.  Every weekend involved a BCD (Butt Crack of Dawn) group ride on Saturday, with a warm down early on Sunday.  I tried not to let my bike habit become a drag on my family time and mostly succeeded.  Only the occasional tour would take me away from my family.  Not once did I miss a birthday or holiday celebration or family event.  Nor did I let the cost of cycling dip into family funds.  I rode used bikes, throwaways from more financially fortunate friends, fixed my bikes and upgraded only when I had planned and saved.  I know that some guys can’t say any of that, as well as their wives not being able to say their husband’s cycling habit was the best for their relationship, but I know that cycling was not one of my ex’s complaints.  She was proud that her husband biked.

Today, cycling is still the activity that I know will carry me past middle age.  Mountain biking is a fairly new thing for me, but something that refreshed my joy of turning the pedals when the road started getting to be less enjoyable.  I will always cycle as long as I am able.

I will always be a proud MAMIL.

 

 

Condo Paper Chase

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The saga or drama or whatever one might call it continues.  My downstairs neighbor now wants to make “peace” (cough cough).  Thus the letter I received in the mail this past Friday afternoon.  Such a lovely treatise, carefully written, not so artfully communicated.

I wish I could call it anything but bullshit.

The letter starts off with good intent.  The lawyer wants to be a go between, the one who brings peace to the “long simmering dispute” with no intention “to escalate this feud”.  How nice.  What a saint this man is.  My neighbors have hired a mediator.  That’s a good sign, right?

I thought that initially, as I scanned the letter.  This could be a good thing.  Then I actually read the letter.  Call it what one wants, but what it is is a not so veiled attempt at manipulation, a list of demands, an attempt to get me to agree in writing so that it can be held over my head.  What it really constitutes is just another complaint, an attempt to point a finger at someone who doesn’t behave exactly the way Ms. B wants me to behave.  It’s crazy.  I am a single, middle aged man who goes to bed early virtually every night except Saturday night, who just wants to live a quiet existence.

That is part of the issue that I have.  Last April, what I was really wishing for was to move into my quiet place of refuge, recover from the trauma of the separation and the change in my life.  Instead, I inherited a complaining witch who wants to manipulate me in order to make her happy.  Without moving out, it’s impossible to comply to the standards she wants met.

Thad must be one happy, content, satisfied man.  All I can say is that she had better be one exceptional f***.

This guy says that he met with T & T for “a couple of meetings”.  It’s nice to know that they think that a lawyer is necessary.  After all, previous occupants of my condo only received letters taped to their door and an occasional visit from the police.  I am the first to get a letter from a lawyer.

I like the audacity of paragraph 9.  Seriously, you actually think that I am going to let my nutcase neighbor text me to complain in real time?  I am a moron, but not an ultra maroon (thank you, Bugs Bunny).

I talked to my brother after the letter was received last Friday, then emailed a copy to him.  My brother is an excellent lawyer, so he will have an interesting commentary to supply, I am sure.  My guess is that he will say that no response is required, something that I agree with.

Some day, I will live a drama free life.  It has to happen, right?